Failing Mississippi bar exam could mean return to law school

MGN Online

The Mississippi Supreme Court says an inspiring lawyer has to pass the bar exam within three attempts or risk going back to law school.

Posted: Jun 7, 2019 10:19 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Changes in rules for those seeking to become a lawyer in Mississippi could result in some returning to law school.

The Mississippi Supreme Court says a person seeking to become a lawyer has to pass the bar exam within three attempts or they will have to go back to law school for at least 12 semester hours before they can retake the test. After going back to law school and successfully completing the 12 hours or additional course work, an applicant will be permitted to take the bar exam one additional time, the court's order says.

The change comes after the annual passage rate on the Mississippi Bar exam has dropped from 79 percent in 2014 to 48 percent last year, The Clarion Ledger reported.

The order, written by Justice Leslie King, was filed last week. The rule change was adopted at the request of the Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions. It's to take effect with the February 2020 bar exam.

Some justices on the nine-member court said in separate written statements that they are opposed to giving an applicant an additional opportunity to try to pass the exam after three failed attempts.

"I would impose the three-failure limit, but I would not allow those candidates who fail three times to retake the Mississippi Bar exam," said Justice Josiah Coleman.

Coleman said the court didn't have any data to support or contradict that candidates who fail the bar exam three times will be rendered competent to practice law after studying and paying for 12 additional hours of law school.

Mississippi Bar exam statistics show that 10 of the 102 applicants, or 9.8 percent, who took the exam in February had previously failed three or more times. In July 2018, 14 of 178, or 7.9 percent, had taken the exam at least three previous times.

The number of students passing the twice-a-year bar exam has been on a downward trend over the last several years.

Board of Bar Admissions Chairman Marcie Baria said in the petition to the court that in recent years, Mississippi has found itself mirroring the nation with smaller law school class sizes, recent plummeting bar passage rates - now stagnated at a new low/normal - and a generation that appears to learn differently than those who have come before.

"Over the last few testings, repeat exam takers comprise approximately 40% of those sitting for each exam," Baria said, "the escalating number of applicants retaking the exam adversely and significantly affect pass rates in Mississippi and those retaking the exam repeatedly do not show a statistical likelihood of passing on subsequent attempts."

The Mississippi Supreme Court annual report for 2018 said 269 people took the bar exam overall during the February and July exams. The pass rate was 48 percent.

In 2017, 262 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 52 percent.

In 2016, 276 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 68 percent.

In 2015, 286 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 75 percent.

In 2014, 294 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 79 percent.

No one purports to know for sure why the passing rate is declining, but some have suggested it may be that law schools are accepting less qualified students.

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, has said a 2015 investigation by the national organization found that law schools were accepting more students with lower incoming credentials than ever before.

Local Jackson attorney Jim Warren said he cannot correlate bar passage ability with ability to practice law other than the bar passage indicates an ability to prepare and successfully complete a task.

"Folks with better test-taking abilities and the resources to utilize prep courses are likely to do better than those without those advantages. But graduation from an accredited law school is no small feat, and probably indicates the potential attorney is qualified," Warren said.

"The decline in rate of passage may relate to changes in the test," he added. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that the test has gotten harder over the past several years."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60553

Reported Deaths: 1703
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5209106
DeSoto328027
Madison228154
Rankin212428
Harrison209832
Jackson192934
Jones176557
Forrest163153
Washington148032
Lauderdale132388
Lee123230
Neshoba119487
Lamar111512
Oktibbeha105235
Lowndes97332
Warren96426
Scott95317
Bolivar93932
Copiah90924
Panola90711
Sunflower90622
Lafayette8699
Holmes84347
Leflore83259
Pike82632
Grenada81220
Yazoo77311
Leake76725
Lincoln74339
Wayne73221
Pontotoc7247
Simpson71126
Monroe69750
Coahoma65910
Tate64523
Marion59918
Adams58025
Covington57811
Winston57115
Marshall5668
George5415
Union51913
Newton51611
Attala49524
Tallahatchie49310
Pearl River48236
Walthall44218
Chickasaw43519
Noxubee41710
Claiborne40013
Smith37713
Jasper3758
Calhoun3748
Clay36814
Alcorn3544
Prentiss3376
Hancock32614
Tishomingo3163
Yalobusha31610
Lawrence3135
Itawamba30710
Tippah30412
Clarke29825
Montgomery2913
Humphreys26911
Tunica2656
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Kemper22315
Perry2217
Quitman2211
Amite2105
Jefferson Davis1986
Webster19712
Jefferson1916
Wilkinson18712
Sharkey1801
Stone1483
Choctaw1264
Benton1240
Franklin1142
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 88811

Reported Deaths: 1576
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11650225
Mobile8998191
Montgomery6198143
Madison493225
Tuscaloosa391263
Baldwin317522
Shelby300232
Marshall294730
Unassigned263351
Lee249140
Morgan220615
Etowah191425
DeKalb167713
Elmore158437
Calhoun15359
Walker145763
Houston130912
Dallas128023
Russell12201
Franklin118420
Limestone118313
St. Clair118212
Cullman111311
Colbert107612
Lauderdale105312
Autauga101020
Escambia96515
Talladega89013
Jackson8163
Chambers81438
Tallapoosa80478
Dale77619
Butler75135
Blount7223
Covington70420
Coffee7035
Chilton6976
Pike6547
Barbour5625
Lowndes54624
Marion53524
Marengo51514
Clarke4849
Hale44925
Bullock43711
Perry4284
Winston42811
Wilcox4029
Monroe3884
Randolph38810
Conecuh37110
Bibb3643
Pickens3639
Sumter36118
Washington31011
Macon30813
Lawrence3060
Crenshaw2843
Choctaw27312
Henry2433
Greene24011
Cherokee2337
Geneva2260
Clay2165
Lamar1942
Fayette1695
Cleburne1141
Coosa902
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